My Veterans Day

In the Summer of 1964 as I prepared to enter the University of Notre Dame as a freshman, the Army ROTC program sent me something about enrolling. I talked to my Dad, a deeply conservative man who served two years as an Army doctor and five years in the Public Health Service as a doctor in a rural Georgia town. He insisted that I sign up for the first two years, and then make a final choice for the last two years. The War in Viet Nam was nearly nothing, and it didn’t seem like a big deal, so I did.

Then in the Spring of ’66, I had to decide whether to commit to two more years of ROTC and a two-year enlistment, or quit. I talked to my Dad again. He thought it would be best to stay in. Besides the small monthly stipend, he pointed out that I was likely to be drafted, and that serving as an officer was better than being an enlisted man. Officers made more money and had a somewhat larger amount of control over their lives, he said, which was funny because he truly hated being bossed around when he was an Army pediatrician. So I stayed.

In the Spring of ’68, we were all asked to select a branch and a location. I picked Signal Corps, because they had a significant computer-oriented section, and I was good at that; and Germany and Korea as a back-up. A couple of days later Major MacIntosh asked me to stay after class. He said he had noticed my concerns about the War, and wondered if I really wanted to serve. I didn’t. I wanted to go to grad school. But I knew I was likely to be drafted, and I surely wasn’t going to go in as an enlisted man when I had the chance to be an officer. So I made up some mealy-mouthed answer. I got into the Signal Corps, and was assigned to Germany. Frankfurt I think.

I entered in October ’68. I immediately realized how much I didn’t like it. And then I was told I’d have to re-up for two more years to keep the Germany assignment. Eventually I was sent to Sinop Turkey by Betty Sammons of blessed memory.

I was reminded of this by an essay by David French in The Atlantic. I think it’s fair to say that French and I are about as far apart on the political spectrum as it’s possible for two people to be.

In his essay, French says he had been a vocal supporter of the Iraq invasion on the grounds that Saddam Hussein had to go. In 2005, French, then 36 and and out-of-shape activist lawyer, jaoined the Army as a JAG officer, and volunteered for service in Iraq. He served with a forward unit for a year and then in the Reserves. He explains his motivation:

One evening, at home in Philadelphia, I read the story of a Marine officer who had been wounded in Anbar province. He’d used the reporter’s satellite phone to call his wife and two kids and tell them that he was hurt but he’d be okay. At that instant I was hit with a burning sense of conviction. How could I support a war I wasn’t willing to fight?

French knew the Iraq War was a nightmare, but he volunteered to serve at the front. He thinks his service was worth the pain and grief he suffered.

It reminded me once again of my rationale for joining the Army, as best I can reconstruct it through the haze of he decades and many retellings. I know I was opposed to it on the grounds we discussed at Notre Dame, St. Augustine’s Just War Theory. We all talked about it all the time, discussing morality, duty, and options. I was also opposed to getting hurt or killed. I don’t clearly remember other considerations, but as I told the story to others over the years. I usually mentioned a couple of things. The alternative of going to Canada or trying to duck seemed cowardly. It’s my duty to sere my country, even if I thought the War was immoral. And, I didn’t want to make some other person take my place. At least, that’s how I remember it today.

French says his service was worthwhile not because of anything he did that was of benefit to Iraquis or the US, but because of the people he served with, and because of the experiences he had. In the same way, I think I learned a lot about being an adult, and being a leader, and figuring out how to use persuasion, technical skills, and bravado, to achieve decent results for members of my unit and myself.

French writes:

The decision to serve is a tangible declaration that you love your home—the place and its people—enough to bear profound burdens to sustain its existence and its way of life.

I was and am angry about the War in Viet Nam. I know dead and wounded men. I cried the first time I went to the Viet Nam Memorial in DC. and thinking about it chokes me up today. I’ve met men whose lives were wrecked by pain, drugs and alcohol as a result of their service. I knew other men who served, and who came out fine. Very rarely, we talked about out motivations.

But throughout the years I’ve felt two things above all: I was willing to take my turn. I didn’t hide out in the Reserves like W. Bush and Dan Quayle, and I didn’t duck out like Bill Clinton.

And slowly, slowly, I’ve come to agree with French about the decision to serve. I love our country and its people, and our way of life. Even when I when I am certain we need to change.

Update: all of us faced terrible choices in the Viet Nam War era, because of the draft. Everyone has a story about their decisions. This is mine. I hope veterans of all eras will use this post to discuss their stories for the Emptywheel community.

30 replies
  1. Vinnie Gambone says:

    Mr Walker,

    There’s is a line in Hanoi Hilton where a POW sentenced to die the next day says these words at a Christmas Dinner the VC staged:
    ” I do not die for love of country, but for love of countrymen.”

    Feeling echoes of that sentiment in your piece.

    Thanks for going, sincerely.

  2. Bay State Librul says:

    Enjoyed your post.
    Tim O’Brien, in The Things They Carried, brought to life the Viet Nam War.
    “For the most part they carried themselves with poise, a kind of dignity. Now and then, however, there were times of panic, when they squealed or wanted to squeal but couldn’t, when they twitched and made moaning sounds and covered their heads and said Dear Jesus and flopped around on the earth and fired …

    • Norskeflamthrower says:

      “The Things They Carried” is the absolute best telling of the story of those who didn’t have the option of choosing an MOS other than 11B or choosing where they would serve. Like my grandfather who fought in WWI and received the Purple Heart and my father who earned a Bronze Star with Oakleaf Cluster and a Purple Heart for wounds he carried for his entire life, most of the Nam vets I know went through at least five years of “adjustment” for every year served there and very seldom speak directly of the experience even to their children or fellow vets. I was there in 1966/67 and I remember coming home to a world I didn’t recognize and was completely at a loss as to how to respond to those who with best intentions offered “thank you for your service”. I struggled with this (and a lot of other stuff) for years until three years ago when in line at the super market check out on Veterans Day, I had the following exchange with a 17 or 18 year old young woman check-out clerk: “Hi, did you find everything OK? Yes I did thanks. Are you a vet? Yes. Oh, were you in Iraq? No, Vietnam. Oh, awesome, thank you for your service. There was nothing ‘awesome’ about it!”

      I was with my brother-in-law who is 25 years younger than I and when we got home we had a long conversation about the incident and how the response of the young woman almost dropped me in my tracks. I tried to explain to him that “thank you for your service” is an easy way for most people to get away with being reminded once a year but not having to think why we have wars and veterans or that most veterans’ needs are not any different from those of tens of millions of their fellow citizens who need more than a “thank you” once a year. What really shook me at that time was that this beautiful young woman just getting a jump on life had no concept of history except as it was taught to her in movies and textbooks and no idea of what war is other than the hagiography of politicians and her priests or ministers. The heroic actions of the “generation Z” voters week has allowed me to finally have some very cautious optimism that maybe the sacrifice of my father and grandfather and the 55,000+ of my brothers and sisters who didn’t come home will not have been in vain.

      • Alan Charbonneau says:

        I turned 13 in February, 1967. The war was starting to get lots of attention on the news and it ramped up for the next several years. I recall the Youth International Party, the “Yippies” fighting with cops at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

        I remember Chicago Mayor Richard Daley swearing at Senator Ribicoff during at the 1968 Democratic Convention. Abe Ribicoff spoke from the podium about the ‘Gestapo tactics’ of the Chicago police against anti-Vietnam war protesters. I saw Mayor Daley yelling at Ribicoff. The newscaster suggested he was calling Ribicoff a “fink”, but I think it was another word beginning with “f”.

        Watching our country being torn apart by the war and the knowledge that these young people were dying for no good cause affected me deeply. When I think of COVID killing nearly 1.1 million Americans in under three years, I am astounded that the country that had protectors in the streets over Vietnam seems to shrug over COVID deaths.

        We’ve had nearly 19 Vietnams of COVID deaths and people are screaming about having to wear masks, “COVID fascism”, mandates, etc. In the eight years of our troops involvement in Vietnam, those 58,220 deaths comes out to just under 20 per day average. With COVID, it’s closer to 1,080 per day.

        It’s hard to see my country turn into such a cesspool. I’ve also had a hard time listening to the “kids these days” speeches from people my age who don’t seem to remember that they or the kids they went to high school with were just like these kids; some were great and some were jerks. We also listened to our share of speeches about how we couldn’t measure up to the older generation.

        But on election night, I was heartened to see that young people came out to vote. It was a gratifying feeling to see the future of our country making a statement. If that is over-the-top naïveté, so be it. It’s way better than being cynical.

  3. pablointhegazebo says:

    Ed Walker,

    Thank you for your thoughts, I take all soldiers stories seriously. I am still learning today about why I feel as I do about 1968 and the war, then and now.

    Every Veteran’s Day it is the same thing for me, “Thank you for your service” and I don’t want to hear it. I say “It wasn’t my idea” and mostly it gets lost. Fine. What I still want to hear is “Welcome home”, but almost never do.

    • Ed Walker says:

      I’m struggling with trying to reconstruct 17-year old me from what now me has said and remembered over the decades. I wonder how much of the recollection of now me is something I made up to explain myself, and how much is accurate memory.

      It helps me to write out my thoughts. If it would help you to put it in a comment here, please do.

  4. bidrec says:

    I joined to get out of the foundry. I had the safest possible duty if The Guinness Book Of World Records is to be believed. Spain had the world’s lowest murder rate. In 1973 the lumber industry in the Northwest collapsed so I met a lot of Mormons who did not get paid at the end of the season and so joined for economic reasons.

  5. Purple Martin says:

    Thank you Ed. Likely eight or nine years younger than you, I had a draft lottery number of 3 but the draft was suspended by the time I was eligible. Still, rural Southern Idaho-raised with few options, enlisted in the Air Force for the economic opportunities. So I feel no guilt for getting off a failing Idaho farm, scoring high enough on the ASVAB for an guaranteed AF IT job, retiring 21 years later at SMSgt, and leveraging ten years InfoSec experience (plus AF 90% Tuition Assistance paying for a BSc) into my permanent profession, from which I’m now comfortably retired.

    Despite a personality perhaps poorly suited to the military, my worst day in the AF was better than my best day at the plow factory (true story). Grateful that I was never put in a position to be shot at. Thankful for what the AF taught me (including how to learn from both good and bad leaders). Worked for me.

    Yesterday at Noon I posted our flag (the time it’s raised from half- to full-staff on Memorial Day). Spent some time thinking of the thankfully few people I’ve personally known who died in military service (and other kinds of service to our country). Then went out and played a couple rounds of disc golf, grateful that I could.

    I’ve listened to a lot of Memorial Day speeches and read a lot of essays. Many were rote and forgettable, some were memorable, a few were haunting. So I reread a beautifully written essay I ran across last year, the best, most meaningful, I’ve ever seen. It encompasses a range of ideas, focused and infused with a thoughtful purpose. And there are sentences—whole paragraphs—that made me think, “if I could write that, then I could call myself a writer.” Link is below, if anyone would like to read it.

    I hope you and everyone had a thoughtful and meaningful Memorial day, and are having an enjoyable and fulfilling holiday weekend.

    Memorial Day—for All Americans: We may disagree with one another about our vision for our country, but so did the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines we honor today.
    By Theodore R. Johnson, director of the Fellows Program at the Brennan Center for Justice and a writer for The Bulwark. He is also a retired commander in the U.S. Navy.

  6. Bob Martin says:

    In 1964 I was quite aware of Vietnam as a college student, and knew childhood friends who were in Vietnam in 1965. I was totally opposed to the war and unwilling either to kill or to be killed, and then I got a series of deferments until winning in the draft lottery in 1970. I felt compassion for those Americans who went to Vietnam but never doubted that the US had no business supporting South Vietnam dictators and killing millions of Indochinese. We were wrong from the start and I am happy to have known that.

    • Ed Walker says:

      I fully agree that the war was immoral and I fully respect your decision.

      I should clarify my comment about Bush, Quayle, and Clinton. The first two disgust me. Both got their slots in the Guard through their family political connections. Quayle took a slot in the Indiana Guard that could have gone to any of my high school buddies, and I resent it. Then they pretended their choices were patriotic, and that their service was equivalent to those whose names are on the Wall. Clinton took full responsibility for his decision, and discussed his thinking publicly. Compare that to the contemptuous response of Dick Cheney: “I had other priorities in the ‘60s than military service.”

  7. PJ_Sockpuppet_12NOV2022 says:

    I was a squad leader in an infantry company in Vietnam, 1969-70, in the 11th Brigade of the Americal Division. I was drafted and didn’t have the moral or intellectual wherewithal to resist. I saluted like a good midwestern boy and did my two years, earning a bronze star for valor. 52 years later, I still have no idea what the war was about, and feel nothing but shame and regret for my role in that disaster. 2.2 million southeast Asians died, 58,000 Americans lost their lives, and we sprayed that little agrarian country with a toxic carcinogen that has caused death and birth defects, and we left hundreds of thousands of unexploded munitions in the landscape. And when things weren’t going so well, we bailed out and left our allies to fend for themselves. And we pissed away billions of taxpayers dollars in the process. I do appreciate it when people say “thanks for your service,” because I do believe that we should all serve our country in some way. But we need to separate our gratitude for our service men and women from the godawful wars we send them into, and that includes Iraq and Afghanistan. If indeed we are so appreciative of our military personnel, then the best thing we can do is stop exposing them to danger in service of the global corporate agenda. We are allowing a tiny handful of grumpy, belligerent old men like Henry Kissinger to involve us in war crimes around the globe. And Congress continues to fund these atrocities without having a clue about what they are supporting. I’m all for respecting veterans– but our assaults on other nations has nothing to do with “protecting our freedoms.” We aren’t making war abroad to advance democratic ideals– we are simply exercising power because we want critical natural resources and the freedom to pursue a vicious capitalist agenda without restraint.

    [You have sockpuppeted repeatedly here and continue to evade moderation with fake identities. This one in particular — “PJ” now edited to reflect sockpuppeting — is most egregious and unacceptable because it steps on the identity of another long-time trustworthy community member. This is unacceptable and unwelcome. / ~Rayne]

    • bmaz says:

      Hi, and welcome. Couple of things though: 1) Paragraph breaks are everybody’s friend and are crucial to the readability of this blog. 2) You will need to change your screen name here to something that complies with our 8 character minimum requirement. That is the rule. Not to mention we have already had a PJ here forever, and you are not she.

  8. mike harper says:

    Spent May June 1967 in Vietnam as a member of a battle damage assessment team. I saw the war second hand as we viewed Army equipment with various types of damage. Land mine damage was number one and RPG’s the second. It was the quiet time in the area around Saigon. We were just tourists in a war zone. The troopers should have called. us RAMF’s.
    I was a civilian working for a military equipment manufacturer. I even volunteered for the duty. I had a wife and two children. A mortgage also. Seemed like a adventure at the time.
    Equipment I started working on in 1960 is in action in Ukraine. Ukraine might be the first honorable use of the vehicle.
    If anyone is interested in my photos of Saigon, I can post a Shutterfly link. All the battle damage photos I took were given to the army. The Saigon photos are of the people. Only a few of soldiers.
    During Tet, I viewed all the places we traveled too that got the shit shot out of them.
    My opinion on how to protect our troopers was not to upgrade the equipment, but to bring the troopers home.

  9. Joseph Gasparrini says:

    Clinton?? How the hell are you casting aspersions ?? What decision ?? Either you got drafted or you didn’t. He didn’t.

  10. Peter Hug says:

    I was eleven in 1975 and I was the oldest kid in my family, so the war didn’t have any immediate impact on me growing up. I did read everything I could get my hands on (mostly National Geographic articles) about it; we didn’t have a TV, so I didn’t see any of the network news.

    However, that war, and the echoes of that war, have shaped my life in some really fundamental ways. I know people from the South, from the North, and people who served with MACV. I had a girlfriend in undergrad whose father was an ARVN Colonel – they took him away and they never saw him again, and she ended up as one of the boat people in 1978. I’m very good friends with a family whose father was a noncom on a riverine boat – when everything fell apart, they went back to Cam Ranh, picked up all their family, and ended up following the USS Kirk to Subic Bay. I know a number of people who were in the US Military in Viet Nam, including some who were pretty badly wounded. And my fiancée (who I never have met if it weren’t for the cascade of events that started because I was going out with my Vietnamese girlfriend in undergrad), was born in Hanoi (although she’s lived in Saigon since she was six).

    That war has been a defining event for us all and the country, and I’m not sure we have yet really come to terms with what it did to us.

  11. Epicurus says:

    I was commissioned in June, 1969.

    On Memorial Day I pray for those that died in service to the country, some my friends. I hope their lives weren’t wasted. (Arlington National Cemetery, The Vietnam Wall, and the Normandy American Cemetery are quite moving.) On Veteran’s Day I give thanks that people serve/served in the capacities that they do/did. On Veteran’s Day I also watch a movie called The Conscientious Objector about Desmond Doss, a medic. It reminds me of the choices most veterans have made, sometimes at great personal sacrifice, to serve the country in the right way and, perhaps, serve as an example for the country and those that manage it of the right way.

  12. dakine01 says:

    I graduated high school in 1970 from a private military school. I received an ROTC scholarship. I wound up flunking out after five years. The army could have pulled me in for four years but were drawing down after Vietnam.

    I then enlisted in the USAF, serving 5 years, 9 months, and was able to finish my degree.

    I have no regrets.

    I do respect that for all of his waffling and back and forth, Clinton in the end was 1A and took a chance on the lottery, unlike TFG and Dick “I had better things to do” Cheney.

  13. bidrec says:

    I am a “Vietnam Era” vet. That just means I joined before the end of the era which was July 1st, 1974. I got a National Defense ribbon.

    Some random comments: It does not follow from receiving a draft notice that you will be drafted. Only the army has a draft. When President Carter opened Fort Benjamin Harrison to draft evaders my fellow classmates in Teletype school at Keesler Air Training Command joked that they should turn themselves in. You are free to enlist in another service if they will take you.

    Keesler was also training our allies the Iranians at that time.

    My first permanent assignment was at Schoodic Point, Maine. It was built by John D. Rockefeller for the Navy in exchange for the Navy moving from Otter Cliffs which was at the base of Rockefeller’s driveway on Mount Desert Island. The base was used for “twilight tours”, i.e., the last duty station before retirement so senior-enlisted there outnumbered junior-enlisted.

    My roommate in Maine had served in Okinawa and Guam respectively when the last Japanese soldiers there surrendered in the ’70’s.

    In 1977 we received a raise to comrats due to a spike in the price of coffee.

    My next duty station was in Spain which prior to their joining NATO had rigid rent control. I had a four bedroom bath-and-a-half apartment with two balconies for $120 which I shared with someone who was never there. One balcony was for drying clothes. It worked for me.

    I served with sailors who had been on the USS Liberty and the USS Pueblo. It was discussed after the North Koreans released the sailors and marines from the Pueblo that the Navy was more generous with medals than were the Marines.

    I was not in Iran but I followed the action in The Federal Times and when the students surrounded the embassy there prior to the 444 days they also surrounded the CIA listening post. This so freaked out the “spooks” that they threatened to cross the border into Russia for safety. That is according to a letter to the editor of The Federal Times.

  14. posaune says:

    Thank you for this, Ed. Very thought-provoking.
    My brother enlisted as an 18-year old in 1969. Then, took the audition for the Marine Band (White House Orchestra) and, miraculously, was accepted. Very fortunate, yes. But it still took a considerable toll on him playing hundreds of funerals per week. What a time in our history.

    p.s. OT: my 88-yo cherished MIL, voted blue on Tuesday morning, and died Tuesday night. It was her last outing. Child of the Great Depression, public health nurse, accompanied her spouse to Vietnam to treat civilians (Medecins Sans Frontieres) during the war and later to Malawi. Managed to raise 4 blue kids (and 6 blue grand kids) — from Western NE, no less. Sharp as a tack till the end. She will be so missed.

  15. Drew in Bronx says:

    My number didn’t come up in the draft in 1972 and I have neither aptitude nor desire to serve in the military. But I had a colleague in a library who was several years older than me. He was jewish, but fell in love with playing the organ and fascinated by worship–he graduated with a music degree and came back to New York. He knew he would have a hard time making it as a full time musician so he simultaneously enrolled at the library school at Columbia & the school of sacred music at Union Theological Seminary next door. Then 1968 came around. He was very opposed to the war, but he told me he knew his draft board in Queens would send another Black or brown kid to Vietnam if he avoided the draft, so he didn’t take steps for a deferment etc. He had been told that there was an extreme shortage of enlisted librarians in the Army, so he quickly finished his library degree before he was drafted. At the end of basic training, everybody got their orders. He only found out later that the Army had given up on the idea of enlisted librarians and started hiring civilians. His orders were for “Advanced Infantry Training”-which would have put him in Vietnam in one of those units where casualties outnumbered the number who survived. He told me his big problem was that he couldn’t kill someone. I actually believe that of him–he was totally unsuited to physical self defense.

    But he heard that on that vast base, the head chaplain needed a chaplain’s assistant, which was a duty that primarily involved playing the organ at church services. So Seth got an appointment for an interview and audition. He went over in his fatigues. Organists normally wear special shoes like dancing shoes to handle the pedals, but he played this audition on which his life literally depended, a Bach chorale prelude, wearing his combat boots.

  16. jim Vandewalker says:

    I got drafted and held up my hand to be sworn on February 24, 1966, just about when Johnson and MacNamara were well into ramping up the action in Vietnam. There was begining to be some considerable opposition to the war on college campuses and in March Muhammad Ali would refuse induction. I thought about it, about duty and obligation and morality, and when I got the letter (“The President of the United States TO: James S. Vandewalker: YOU WILL REPORT…”) I went.

    I did not then and do not now feel any hostility to those, like Muhammad Ali, who refused to go, whether choosing prosecution here or exile in Canada or elsewhere. I don’t feel so kindly toward “fortunate sons” like Dan Quayle and George W Bush whose fathers engineered billets in the National Guard. Back then that meant a couple of months of Basic and AIT and then you went home and went to drill once a month and stayed far away from rice paddies.

    After a bus ride late into the night, a couple of hundred of us were herded into an auditorium in Ft. Benning and told to stand and take one step forward. This step, the officer administering the oath told us, was the actual assent to the oath, and we could not later claim not to have said the words. I did say the words, though.

    Interestingly, that same officer told us that the oath we had just taken, that said we had to obey the orders of those placed over us, also required us to refuse to obey unlawful orders; to my mind a remarkable thing to tell a roomful of non-too-enthusiastic draftees.

    Anyway, there I was, in the Army, in basic training, Sand Hill, Ft. Benning, in a platoon full of good old boys from Auburndale and Plant City. These folks have some limitations in the area of intellectual companionship, but bigod there’s no one better to be in the Army with. If I’m gonna get shot at, I wanna be surrounded by Southern poor boys every time. I had some experience with big city lads —I once wound up in a platoon full of blue-collar guys from from a large Midwestern city, stereotypical ethnocentric xenophobes who pretty well defined “Ugly American” — and I was glad to get back to the rednecks. Their casual brutality, disregard for their own and everyone else’s mortality, sardonic self-deprecation and natural affinity for engines and firearms make them the best kind of soldier.

    Back then a lot of men got drafted — Elvis Presley got drafted! — and as a consequence there was not this strange, worshipfull valorization of the military that happens now. Then, a lot of people had direct experience of the military and knew that higher authority was by and large full of crap and didn’t venerate it. Probably not a good enough reason to re-instate the draft.

    So I swore an oath, and I kept it, and they let me out on February 23, 1968. I’m not sorry I served, though there was nothing heroic about it. It was mostly just a slog. I don’t think it gives me any stronger claim to be a Tue American than a teacher who shows up every day, or a firefighter, or a mailman, or even someone who pays his taxes and keeps the peace.

    They gave me a National Defense Service Medal (you get that for being in for six months) and a Good Conduct Medal (you get that for not getting an Article 15) and an Army Commendation Medal (I wrote the citation myself!), and I was glad to have done it.

    Ft. Benning, Ft. Knox, Ft. Sam Houston, Ft. Campbell. Years later in England I went to see Hadrian’s Wall, built by Roman legions in the Second Century. We walked a ways along the stump of the Wall which still mostly runs from sea to sea in the North of England. I visited the ruins of a Roman Fort at Housesteads. There’s nothing left but the foundations, white stone on the green grass, so it’s like standing on a full-sized plan. You come up the hill on the road approaching the gate through the vicus, the civilian settlement outside the fort, and I stood there trying to visualize what it must have looked like, and gradually I realized that this was pretty much the New Braunfels Road gate at Ft. Sam Houston. There was the pawn shop and there was the Victory Bar & Grill. It was eighteen hundred years old and it was just as tawdry as the strip outside any army post in CONUS. “Hey, Aidrianus! Ooo-RAH!” Didn’t have a used chariot lot though.

    I left Ft. Campbell on February 23, 1968, and drove down Highway 41. I was 23 years old and could not have imagined looking into that rear-view mirror fifty-five years later. Fifty-five years!

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